All posts by Chris Thorne

Have had this dream of owning my own boat and sailing around the world for almost as long as I can recall - I now have the boat, so let's see how far we get!

Waving to Fabi’s cousins in Albania ….

A while back Valeria said on Facebook that we were off to Corfu. Fabiana asked us to wave at her cousins across the water in Albania. Now I am pretty sure they are Erion’s cousins rather than Fabiana’s, but we waved anyway.  Apparently the cousins didn’t get the memo.

We left Mandraki at 4pm on Sunday, 1st October for our 40 hour passage back across the Ionian to Roccella Ionica.   The first leg of this journey took us north through the North Corfu Channel, a mile wide stretch of water between Corfu and Albania, waving frantically as wé went.  We passed withing 3/4 of a mile of the Albanian coast and within a couple of miles of the port of Saranda. This is where the ferries from Corfu go and the AIS showed a British yacht in the harbour.  Something to consider when we return this way!!

North Corfu Channel with Saranda in the distance

By 6 pm we had turned west along the north coast of Corfu with the fishing line out and caught two large fat fish in rapid succession.  Perhaps it was just a coincidence but just as we were reeling them in and Valeria was preparing them we found ourselves being ‘chased’ by a small fishing boat, and they did seem intent on getting very close to us, so much so that I moved out of their way.  I wondered if they wanted their fish back, or perhaps it was Fabiana’s cousins ……..

An hour or so after sunset we negotiated the small island off the north west corner of Corfu and set our course of 236ºM for the next 35 hours.

The weather was entirely calm for the entire passage and what wind there was was astern of us all the way.   This was a 6th version of the forecast we must have missed and we made such good time that over night on Monday into Tuesday I had to slow down to keep our ETA to office hours, planning to arrive at 8 am.

We have heard consistently good things about Roccella, which is why we came, but it was still a pleasant suprise to be called by them on the VHF at about 7.30; it was almost as if they were expecting us!   An impression reinforced when, having secured to our berth we found a Brazilian flag on the lamp post behind us!  Every lamp post in the marina sports a national flag on it, all rather old and tatty, but what are the odds of us being put next to this one!

Although it is a little isolated Roccella does seem well organised and managed, and there is a growing ‘live aboard’ community here, comprising British, Australians, Canadians and Germans so far.  The marina is opening up the special ‘liveaboard’ shower block soon, there is to be a gym  and a language course in Italian run.  Almost a shame we’ll be leaving for the UK in November!

But before then we have to prepare the boat to be left for the winter and plan some exploration of the local area and get to know our new neighbours.

 

Port Mandraki and Corfu Town

With our watermaker miraculously working and my €50 salvage fee burning a hole in my pocket we were at a bit of a loose end for a few days, so we decided to go to Port Mandraki, the small yacht club marina directly below the ‘old fort’ in Corfu.

Port Mandraki

It was suprisingly un crowded and we were put on the outer harbour ‘wall’. I use inverted commas because as harbour walls go it is pretty insignificant. It is between 1 and 2 metres high and about 3 metres wide, made of rock with a haphazard concrete pathway along the top.  These rocks extend out underwater in the marina and so we had to go bows onto the wall.  Our draught at the bows is about 20 cm and so there is no chance of catching anything that way round.  But that also meant we couldn’t use our gangway without some major seamanship being undertaken, so we used the marina’s plank, a 4 metre wooden scaffold board about 30 cm wide.   A disincentive to enjoying the local wine with ones lunch!

Church of St George, against castle heights

Once tied up and we’d negotiated the gangplank a few times hooking up the electricity and water we set off into town to explore.   The marina is right inside the old fort.  This is of Venetian vintage and as an added layer of defence they also cut a channel across the head land on which the fort is built to form a moat; the marina is on the fort side of that feature.  Walking through the Venetian Fort we rather incongruously found ourselves in a what could easily have been mistaken for a street in the Woolwich Arsenal!   Information signs then informed us that Corfu had been a British Protectorate from 1815 to 1864.  Corfu has a long and involved history and has been conquered, occupied or administered by virtually everybody at one time or another.

Making our way out of the fort we headed into Corfu Town.   On first impressions we could easily have been in Italy, and, as towns go, it  was very pleasant to wander around.  We had lunch and even went to visit the Museum of Oriental Art.

Museum of Oriental Art

Old Town Hall

That took up Friday afternoon and Saturday.  On Sunday morning, checking the weather, we suddenly found that 4 of our 5 forecasts said we’d have two days of settled weather from Sunday to Tuesday, none of those 4 actually agreed on how settled, what the wind direction might be or whether it would rain but we decided to go for it.  Our passage to Roccella was 200 miles, or 40 hours, if we left on Sunday afternoon, we’d arrive on Tuesday morning.  If we didn’t go on Sunday we’d likely be hanging around Corfu for the next week!

So we moved berths to get closer the the fuel pump, went shopping, took on diesel and were all set to go by 4 pm on Sunday afternoon!

 

Moving on to Corfu

Corfu is to be our final destination in Greece before we return to Italy.  It is also where we hoped to get our watermaker fixed finally and be rid of the tender we salvaged off Lefkas.

Sunrise over Gaios
Sunrise over Gaios

We set off from Gaios at 8 in the morning and had an uneventful 30 mile passage to Gouvia, or more accurately Ormos Kommino just outside Gouvia bay.   It rained on the way there then cleared up but just as I was out on the foredeck anchoring the skies opened, and the down pour lasted until just after we’d anchored!

Ormos Kommino

Once anchored  we set about making arrangements with the marina, the engineer and Sailing Holidays.  As the engineer could only do a Friday visit we planned to spend Thursday at anchor and go into the marina briefly for the engineer to assess the problem with the water maker on Friday morning; we had no wish to stay in the marina at €90 per night!

On Thursday I decided to flush and run the watermaker one last time to ensure it was still not working; Sod’s Law would dictate that it would work perfectly as soon as the engineer tried it.   And Sod’s Law held true! It worked. For no discernable reason it flushed, then happily started producing fresh water!  We heaved the anchor and went for a motor for an hour or so and the watermaker worked perfectly!  We anchored back in Kommino, cancelled the engineer and arranged for the collection of the tender from the anchorage.

On Friday morning two guys from Sailing Holidays arrived and took back their tender and even gave me a ‘salvage fee’ of €50!  That worked out as one night in Mandraki Marina so, as we’d already decided on the weekend there, we just extended the stay by a day.

So this has been quite a successful visit!   A miraculously working watermaker, restoring a ‘lost tender’ and a free night alongside in return for our salvage operation!  And Valeria was all for just leaving it floating there!    We have also now turned our thoughts to what to do with our last few days in Greece as we wait for a two day ‘weather window’ to get from here to Roccella.

Gaios to Lakka by bus

On Tuesday we took the bus from Gaios for the half hour ride to the north end of Paxos to visit Lakka, another small town with a picturesque anchorage.   The countryside on the route was all olive groves with some huge old olive trees, and a surprising number of deserted , derelict buildings.   Lakka was a completely different story.  It is a small, quaint town full of shops and restaurants and set on a picturesque bay just begging to be photographed.

Gaios to Monganisi on foot

Having got a space on the quay on Monday afternoon, the 25th, we took a walk from Gaios towards the bay at Mongonisi, to see what we missed.   It was about 6 km there and back and the views around the coast were very picturesque when the sun was out from behind the clouds!

Ongonisi Bay, empty on Monday !
Toasting Marisa’s new job ….

Sivota to Paxos

We said our farewells to Graeme and Jane, and Martino on Saturday evening and at 8 am on Sunday morning, Graeme and Jayne helped throw off our lines and waved goodbye from the pontoon, Isabella had gone back to bed.  ( You know who your friends are …..)

The passage to Paxos could be made to the east or west of the island. Going east was theoretically an hour shorter than the western route but required the negotiation of the narrow channel passed Lefkada port and the bridge north of Lefkada; with perfect timing and no other yachts we might have made Paxos quicker going east.    We went west, out of Sivota, hang a right, then right again at the next light house ……. navigating is a bit more difficult than that but with GPS and Sat Nav not that much!!!!

We put the sails up; a triumph of hope over experience and motor sailed north by north west towards Paxos, fishing line trailing; another triumph of hope over experience.

And then …. exitement …. well, a mild over exaggeration.   I saw a small rubber boat 6 miles off the coast where no small rubber boat should be.   As we got close it became apparent that it was empty.  As we got closer we saw it marked up as belonging to SailingHolidays.com.   Now, charter boats drag their tenders, we’ve seen enough to know that, so in all likelyhood some one couldn’t tie their knots and lost it, but what if …

Salvage ….

So I called the Coast Guard and reported it, then took the tender in tow.  That is £800 worth of dingy!  Well it was until I saw it up close later as we dragged it on board.  My visions of claiming salvage dropped from a week in a marina to a case of beer, if I was lucky.

Arriving at Gaios I called the Port Police as instructed by Coast Guard.  They had found the owner of the dingy,  the manager for the chater company based in Gouvia.  On phoning him it transpired he’d spent most of the afternoon being quizzed by the Police about this tender.  Oh dear, what a shame, perhaps ensuring charterers can tie knots and keep an efficient look out might help?  How can you loose a tender and not notice?   Mind you, we have a few ‘Charterboat stories’ that could answer that question.

Unfortunately,  arriving at Paxos on Sunday afternoon we found the cute anchorage of Mongonisi packed, and the port of Gaios similarly full. Having said that I lack the Charter Boat skipper mentality which will see them drive at spaces which really don’t exist and cram in there regardless.  So we anchored off the port and spent a rather un-comfortable, and mostly sleepless night, ‘on the hook’, expecting 24 hours of rain which never materialised.

South entrance to Gaios

On Monday afternoon, as yachts left, we went into Gaios and found ourselves a spot on the Town Quay; then spent the afternoon watching various yacht drivers trying to reverse into gaps and fending off others mooring next to us.

All in all a far from uneventful passage but now we’re in Gaios we’ll stay a couple of days and look around the island before moving on to Corfu.

Sivota and the South Ionian Regatta

Returning to Sivota was a good choice as it turned out. Busy due to the Regatta but well sheltered from the winds which were good for the races but not for passage making north! We are grateful to Martino for squeezing us in. Turns out his sister’s boyfriend is …. you guessed it …. Brazilian!

Isabella On Watch ….

The bay was very, very busy with every available berth taken, and the anchorage full each evening. But with all these crews in town it wasn’t as rowdy as might have been expected and we quite enjoyed our stop over. There were plenty of restaurants and tavernas, shops for essential food and fishing tackle and of course Graeme, Jayne and Isabella.

As the week wore on the Regatta crowd slowly disappeared and normality returned although on Saturday we were entertained watching two departing yachts getting their anchors caught on submerged obstructions. One eventually freed himself through brute force but the second managed to dredge up 3 or 4 old anchor chains, all comprehensively tangled round his anchor. After a while Graeme and I went over and helped him free himself.

On Saturday afternoon the four of us decided we needed some exercise and so took a 4 km walk up to a reputedly good winery in the hills above Sivota on the road to Lefkada. We found a taverna for refreshments half way there with fantastic views into Sivota Bay. Happily the taverna was there for refreshments half way back as well!

Sivota Bay

But when we got to the winery it was closed …… well, mostly. We managed to tag onto the end of an over running coach tour and after a quick tasting bought a couple of bottles! Had to be done after all the hiking to get there!

We also had our last meal out with Graeme and Jayne that evening; the ’12 Gods’ restaurant was the best one we found in Sivota. And then we bid our farewells. It was lovely to see them again and spend time with them and we may not see them again until we return to Greece next year.  We’re pretty sure to meet up again as we’re both heading in the same general direction as each other.

Sunset in Sivota

We are both set to leave Sivota on Sunday although we’ll be off earlier with further to go. Paxos, here we come!

Cruising with Scarlett

This was a new experience for us; rather than just meeting up with people in places we set out ‘in company’ with Scarlett.

Stenon Meganisiou
Stenon Meganisiou
Scarlett anchored near Port Atheni
Scarlett anchored near Port Atheni

We set off on Tuesday morning, the 19th, heased for the small harbour of Palairos.  It was only a couple of hours away so we stopped off in Port Atheni, a small bay known to Graeme and Jayne non the north coast of Nisos Meganisi, anchoring for lunch and a swim before resuming our passage.

Unfortunately when we arrived at Palairos the harbour was completely full.  We found out later there is no one to take port fees and so it is effectuvely free to moor, so it is full of thrifty locals!  We then tried the almost empty harbour of Vounaki just south of there, only to be shooed away because it is a ‘Private Harbour’.   We returned to anchor off Palairos.

Evening off Palairos

So, settling down to our anchor, we had drinks aboard Scarlett and, being unable to wait out the next winds in Palairodecided to return to Sivota, or try to; we’d be trying to get in during the Regatta.   As we left the following morning Valeria rang Martino, who runs the pontoon we’d been on and whose number we’d taken.   Martino is Italian and Valeria used the tried and tested ‘Ciao bello! ‘ tactic and managed to secure us two berth, despite the regatta.  The passage back was great as we actually sailed most of the way back to Sivota, getting back onto Martino’s pontoon before the afternoon rush.

It’s us …… under sail …… first ever photo!!

And we were so lucky that Martino found us places, as the afternoon and evening wore on you needed a shoehorn to squeeze boats in and could probably walk from one side of the bay to the other across the decks of anchored yachts.

Sivota again

We paid up until Sunday morning when we hope to be able to set off north again towards Corfu.

Reunion in Sivota

We set off from Sami early on Saturday morning for a short ‘drive’ up to Sivota on the south coast of the island of Lefkas, where we planned to meet up with our friends Graeme and Jayne, and their Ship’s Cat Isabella,  in Scarlett.

Scarlett

As it happened we both arrived at the same time and ended up on opposite sides of the same pontoon just after lunch.  Our plan loosely was to leave on Tuesday on our way up towards Lefkas town to wait out the next batch of poor weather, so with a couple of days to kill we set about some serious socialising, meals on board and ashore.  Isabella even seemed to remember us and Windependent from Olbia almost 5 months ago and settled right in when Graeme and Jayne came to visit!   It is great to meet up with them again.

Chart of Sivota

Sivota is a sheltered bay about half a mile long.  It has a small town quay and is home to an enormous charter fleet which takes up fully 3/4 of the available space.    Unbeknown to us, we had arrived at the start of a charter fleet sailing regatta and space in Sivota was at a premium.  Luckily,arriving early we got onto a privately run pontoon and as the afternoon wore on all the available berths were taken up and boats were anchoring in the harbour with very little room to swing.  How it will be when it gets busy is anyone’s guess.

The village has grown to service the charter fleet custom and trade from other visiting yachts and there is little  else in Sivota other than restaurants, shops and a couple of mini markets.  That said it is a pleasant enough place to pass a couple of days, quiet but crowded, picturesque and sheltered.

Sami and a visit from Keith and Tracy

Last time we were in Cephalonia was May, at the start of our trip around the Aegean, and had been made so welcome by Keith that we had to drop in again on our way passed to say hello.

Sami port

Sami is a quaint place on the east coast of the island at the south end of the Kolpos Samis, the big bay opposite the south end of Ithica. Keith had taken us here for coffee on our last visit and we arranged for him to come up on Friday for the afternoon.

Keith and Tracey arrived at lunch time on Friday and we settled down to an afternoon and evening of BBQing, sunbathing and socialising.   Great to see Keith again and to meet Tracey; all in all a very pleasant visit and we hope to to meet up again in the UK and next year when we stop off in Cephalonia on our way back to explore more of the Aegean.